The Salon Project
- Jonny Ensall
- 21 October 2011
An interesting stab at reviving the art of critical discussion, undermined by technology
‘A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine taste and increase their knowledge.’ So says Wikipedia – the significant choice of source that The Salon Project uses to define its two hours of entertainment. Guests are kitted out in snugly-fitting Victorian-era costumes backstage, before being ushered into a large white room, embellished only by a pair of chandeliers, to make small talk and drink sparkling wine. This chattering is helped along by stimuli including talks from two new speakers each night (for example, an Icelandic designer who claims, without irony, that ‘design is the archaelogy of the things of the future’), a piano recital and a ‘tableau vivant’ – a living picture created by naked models carrying mobile phones, iPods and laptops. The coiffed and primped audience are allowed to bring their camera phones in, and don’t hesitate to take photographs of these symbols of technological overdependence.
Technology rubs roughly up against everything in the Salon, especially at the evening’s climax, when a disturbing video is shown in which expressionless sword-carrying children are shown to have lain waste to any beauty and life the Salon had created. The children of science and progress have cut down their navel-gazing elders, whose iPods can’t do anything to save them. It’s an ugly message to send out after such an open-ended evening. It’s preferable to see the whole event as meaningless, in a good way – a blank canvas on which anything can be created.
Yet this effort of creation is undone by technology, specifically the distracting clicks of those permitted camera phone. As clichéd as it seems, the video is prescient. The evening’s progress is undermined by everyone’s naturally gawkish humanity. Even the crewmembers that sashay through the crowds extemporising with self-conscious pretension about the ‘frisson’ of nakedness don’t offer anything particular helpful. The Salon Project is a fascinating idea, rendered with meticolous detail, but, like the modern world, it’s also hot, uncomfortable, and full of people that annoy you. No wonder the kids are rising up against it.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 22 Oct.